Another year flew by. Another year of fantastic shows and new musical discoveries. This year in music took me from Seattle to England to Amsterdam to Portland to San Francisco and back. I’m grateful for the opportunities I had this year to see local bands and national legends. I also posted several online reviews to No Depression, the journal of roots music. Although we lost some musical greats, I am grateful I had the opportunity to see some of them over the years, including David Bowie and Merle Haggard. I’m also grateful for new friends and for adding lovely new branches to my musical family tree.
Now, on to the fun stuff. I thought I’d share a review in pictures, which includes shows and albums I reviewed. Check ’em out online, or find them linked on my feed to the right.
I started out 2016 with a review of Lookout from a sweet ‘n’ local indie-pop band Fine Prince.
Bizarre musical coincidences occurred all year. I was contacted by Jeff Finlin to post his video “I Killed Myself Last Night” from his 2013 album My Moby Dick, which led to an unexpected friendship and a realization that our mutual friends in music criss-crossed the globe. Jeff also had a ridiculously prolific year. He toured Europe twice, released a retrospective album called Life After Death – The Essential Jeff Finlin, published a poetry book, started a yoga for recovery organization, published 365 Days of Recovery Yoga, and will drop yet another new album soon.
Noam Weinstein released one of my favorite albums of 2016, On Waves.
Colt Kraft brought his ganja country sound and dapper sweaters to Darrell’s Tavern in Shoreline.
Peter Bruntnell,who toured the U.K. and Europe with Jeff Finlin and Clive Barnes this year, also produced one of the best songs and most scathing music videos of the year called “Mr. Sunshine” from his new critically acclaimed album, Nos Da Comrade. Now, it’s December, and the nightmare of greed and power continues on our side of The Pond…
Massy Ferguson played a final show at Jet Bar in Lynnwood before it closed for good. Massy wins for most shows attended this year. I lost track of how many times we saw them.
New York’s Sean Rowe blew us away in Bothell inside a tiny classroom-sized listening room at McMenamins.
A trip to Leavenworth for a Knight family reunion also reunited us with Alisa Milner and Ian McFeron, who played Icicle Creek Brewery. They got married later this year!
Vaudeville Etiquette, Seattle darlings, played The Sunset and all over Seattle this year.
A trip overseas led to meeting promoters and musicophiles Oliver and Birgit Gray of Winchester. Their Swiss Cottage and The Railway Inn are havens for many US and UK Americana artists, including a handful that we saw this year: Richmond Fontaine, Jeff Finlin, The Believers, and Fernando.
In Amsterdam, we met Erik and Jo, Wisconsin expats and owners of Jo’s Cafe in the Melkweg music venue. We didn’t see music on that trip, but we met some beautiful people who care about quality music and esteemed musicians.
We drove to Portland and watched Todd Snider’s triumphant return to his solo show. Rorey Carroll opened with her beautiful, biting folk songs.
Richmond Fontaine–another beautiful coincidence. As we were touring Europe, Willy Vlautin and crew were just days behind us. They also visited Oliver and Birgit in Winchester–they were one of the first American bands to ever play The Railway and Swiss Cottage as one of Oliver’s promotional acts years ago. We finally converged in Portland and witnessed Richmond Fontaine’s swan song. The band was breaking up. They’ve taken the rest of the year to do so, with a final tour in Europe just wrapping up in October.
Flight To Mars – Seattle’s UFO tribute band gets together annually for a great cause – Crohn’s and Collitis Foundation.
Will Kimbrough, Nashville’s prolific singer-songwriter-producer-session artist had a very busy year doing all that. Live At Coast was finally released; and Willie Sugarcapps, his Lower Alabama supergroup, also dropped a new album, Paradise Right Here.
David Corley came back from the dead (literally) to release his sophomore album Lights Out and tour Europe again.
Aaron Lee Tasjan, another acclaimed Nashville artist who just dropped a new album called Silver Tears, played a free show at McMenamins in Bothell to maybe 50 people. His clear vox and bluesy guitar licks sold us. The talented Brian Wright shared the spotlight and backed him. Where the hell was everyone?
John Doe — a new album, a new book on LA punk, a new video, and a new tour, including a stop in Ballard’s Tractor Tavern. A thrill to meet him. Always keeping things fresh and remembering his punk roots at the same time. Opening and backing him was Texan Jesse Dayton, guitarist extraordinaire, who also came back and played a duo show at McMenamins and dropped a new album.Click on individual pics for a closer look…
Ted Leo (of The Pharmacists) and Aimee Mann played Barboza, the tiny club in the basement of Capitol Hill’s Neumos. It was a Pharmacists Acoustic Greatest Hits Night, as well as a splash of new music with Aimee from The Both.
Fernando, who shares lead guitarist Dan Eccles with Richmond Fontaine, came to Hotel Albatross for a lovely solo performance. Two greats, Austin Lucas and Adam Faucett played sets later that night. Later in the summer, Fernando played an outdoor show with Dan at McMenamins in Bothell.
Massy Ferguson’s CD Release Party took place at The Triple Door, the day before we flew out to see Tom Petty with Mudcrutch…
Tom Petty reunited with his old band Mudcrutch and dropped a “2“! Better than the first album, with each artist getting his chance to shine, and more Petty-esque songs. He played The Filmore in San Francisco, and we had to go. Click on individual pics for a closer look. Tom’s also gearing up for a massive 2017 tour, celebrating The Heartbreakers’ 40th year anniversary!
The Swearengens, a favorite Ballard alt-country band, played The Sunset Tavern in July. I’m excited to see them perform once more at The Tractor’s holiday bash with Massy Ferguson and Jackrabbit on December 23.
The very next day, we came back to Ballard to rock out with surf instrumentalists Los Straitjackets at The Tractor. El Vez joined them on stage!
The B-52’s at Woodland Park ZooTunes summer concert series. Pass the tanning butter! Always a great venue for summer shows. They played all the hits to a sold-out crowd.
In August, Kevin “Shinyribs” Russell of Austin surprised us with a full band and backup singers, stepping up his game and into a funky groove.
The Believers, with Craig Aspen and Cynthia Frazzini, tore it up at Oak Harbor Music Fest Labor Day weekend to a huge crowd. They celebrated a 15-year reunion with their original band.
The Paperboys from Vancouver came late September to The Nectar in Fremont. They are always a joy to see, and bring a full band with brass, banjo, fiddle, and flute!
Jenny Whiteley went back to her roots on her latest album, The Original Jenny Whiteley (2016 Black Hen Music). The album was recorded on Wolfe Island, Ontario at the magical Old Post Office, and produced by multi-instrumentalist and humanitarian Hugh Christopher Brown (the man can do no wrong!).
Her father Chris and uncle Ken Whiteley joined her on the album, which includes original material interwoven with traditional folk and bluegrass songs, continuing her father’s legacy. They keep things simple, clean, and stripped down, all the while honoring the genre and letting Jenny’s rich, earthy vocals shine.
Dean Owens caught my ear this year when he released “Cotton Snow”, a song about the Civil War’s bloody Battle of Franklin. Find Dean in Nashville–or Scotland. He will release a new album soon called Southern Wind, a follow-up to 2015’s Into The Sea.
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays to all. I’ll leave you with Dean’s latest Christmas video he produced with The Whisky Hearts. He’ll play Edinburgh 12 December.
Greg Townson‘s latest self-produced solo album, My Friend The Night, is a sweet blend of 60’s pop heart-warmers and heartbreakers. This is a nice album to listen to while cuddled up in a warm blanket, or twisting the night away with a warm friend. He gets to the point with most of the 12 songs clocking in right around three minutes, long enough to heat things up or pull in close for a slow dance.
Todd Bradley, co-producer (along with John DeAngelis), is his partner in crime in another band called The Hi-Risers. He also helps out on harmonizing vocals, bass and drums. Bradley shares writing credit with Allyson Bice on “Could Have Should Have Been”, showing off smooth, classic harmonies with Townson. Gussy Popp (vocals) and Anna Liebel (snare) also make an appearance on a couple of songs.
Greg’s alter ego, Gregorio El Grande plays a much meaner guitar with Los Straitjackets, although some of those surf sounds ring out a few times on this album, including Greg’s fun cover of “Linus and Lucy” (Guaraldi). Greg’s guitar skills are top-notch, whether he’s shredding his DiPinto at a Los Straitjackets show or caressing the chords, as evidenced on “North American Town”:
Greg Townson resides in Rochester, NY, where temperatures dropped below freezing there and all over the East Coast this winter. Grab a parka and a sweetheart, and hit one of his shows in New York before he jets off with Los Straitjackets to California in March. Check Greg’s show calendar here: http://gregtownson.com/ and Los Straitjackets dates here: http://www.straitjackets.com/shows
Support the independent artists who venture to your city and play small clubs and venues. Support quality music.
Check out a few more reviews of Greg with Hi-Risers and LSJ here:
It was one of those Yin-Yang, bittersweet days. Our Mexican-American friend Ralph passed away a few weeks earlier and we attended his memorial service on the afternoon before the Los Straitjackets show. He died in the midst of doing something he loved: selling his folk art at a local art shop on the weekend of Dia De Los Muertos. Not only did Ralph paint beautiful folk art, but painted several variations of ornate skulls and skeletons for Dia De Los Muertos that he was selling that day.
In such a perfect, almost supernatural coincidence, Los Straitjackets played The Tractor the evening after Ralph’s memorial service. We told his loving partner Nancy about LSJ, who wear Lucha Libre Mexican wrestling masks and play instrumental surf music. She was happy that we were going to do something so strangely appropriate after the service. Ralph would have joined us if he could. Maybe he did, in spirit. The happiness and revelry of the night balanced out the somber atmosphere of the day.
On with the show…
Although I had already claimed Southern Culture on The Skids as the best show of the year, I knew I’d probably eat my words when I heard Los Straitjackets were coming to town. The two bands even have their own collaborative album out entitled Mondo Zombie Boogaloo and toured together last year.
Los Straitjackets have been a favorite of mine ever since I saw them a few years ago in Stanwood’s Slow Foods Roots Music Festival. They are a part of my musical family tree–artists I have grown to love that have a common ancestry in roots rock, who have either collaborated together or branched out with various cousins of that genre. LSJ have also gained a huge following in Mexico, and played to 50,000 people in Mexico City last year, two nights in a row!
To give you an idea of their musical style, here’s a fun one from their album, Jet Set:
After the memorial service, we had just enough time to change and Uber down to Ballard. The traffic was reasonably light for a Friday, so we had plenty of time to grab some hearty food at Hattie’s Hat. We first paid homage to Ralph with a big shot of tequila and lime.
Our friend Dean arrived earlier and saved us a spot at our favorite table, right up front, stage right. Thanks, Dean! Soon after, the first band set up.
Miss Mamie Lavona The Exotic Mulatta and Her White Boy Band strutted out to the stage to hearty applause. I didn’t realize this was a local Seattle band. I’ve seen their name pop up a few times (pretty memorable!) and I believe they’ve played with LSJ in the past, but didn’t know the treat we were in for. The band this night consisted of Miss Mamie on sultry vocals, Hugh Jardo’hon aka Eric Ray Anderson on electric ukulele, with other members on trumpet, keys, drums, upright bass, and clarinet. Their jazzy, cabaret-style music took us way back to New Orleans. Miss Mamie’s downright sexy aura was mesmerizing. The band was excellent, with fabulous solos on trumpet and clarinet. They covered some old songs, but also included their own numbers, including a humorous one called “Flat Stanley”.
Los Straitjackets, in their self-aggrandizing fashion, took the stage to a capacity crowd of cheering, whooping fans. Everyone crushed forward as the band donned their matching instruments and egged on the audience with their arms raised in a plea for more noise and applause.
They wasted no time as they dove into “Pacifica”. Here’s a video from a show last year in NYC:
“Casbah” is one of my all-time favorites, with the boys lined up bopping their heads in unison, turning sideways.
Eddie and Greg’s solos were bloody scorching. It was so exhilarating to be that close and watch Eddie’s fingers at work.
Pete was also a kick on bass and had complex runs while mugging for my camera, as evidenced in the first picture, top.
Drummer Chris Sprague, aka Sugarballs, had furious solos, especially on “Sing Sing Sing” and also played to the audience’s applause by standing, waiting to hit the last beat, etc.
Deke Dickerson, in a straw cowboy hat and red jacket joined them, adding some super vocals to their instrumental music. They have an album out which is a collaboration with Deke on old instrumental favorites, such as the Hawaii Five-O theme song (actually sung by Sammy Davis, Jr. in the seventies) and to some of LSJ’s own instrumentals with new lyrics. The LSJ album, entitled Deke Dickerson Sings the Great Instrumental Hits is a hoot. I laughed my way through LSJ’s original first song, “Fury”, where Deke decided a big-time wrestler’s voice would be appropriate singing the lyrics. They played this one at the show, but first Deke asked the audience to clear a path down the middle. He growled the lyrics in his best wrestler voice, jumped off the stage and eventually picked up a hapless audience member and flung him around in his arms, wrestler-style. It was fantastic, and really got us going. Meanwhile, the band was onstage tearing it up, with a nasty solo by Eddie halfway through the crazy song.
He played several songs with them, also including the 50’s version of “Miserlou” with lyrics. He first started off playing in the familiar up-tempo version, made famous in the movie Pulp Fiction. He stopped after shredding a few seconds on his own sparkly DiPinto guitar (LSJ’s model with Deke’s name on it) and said he would do the earlier version–which we would like 50% less than the one we all knew. Ha
I’m just now learning more about Mr. Dickerson, and I must say he is truly a renaissance man. Along with Los Straitjackets, he is doing his part to preserve roots rock for future generations. Check out his website and learn more about this multi-talented fellow.
Deke left the stage to LSJ for several more songs.
Besides being expert instrumentalists, LSJ’s showmanship and faux bravado just added to the entire entertainment experience. We were completely immersed in their performance.
Los Straitjackets are now in the midst of touring with the great Nick Lowe for their Quality Holiday Review. In a twist of fate, Ian McLagan, famed for the band Faces, just passed away early December. He was supposed to join them. They will have a bittersweet tour, I’m sure; but nonetheless it will be the show to see if they play your town. Check out their tour dates and cities on Nick Lowe’s site here: http://nicklowe.com/
A few more pics:
Concert Season 2013 is winding down. I thought I’d get a head start and list some highlights of the year in music. I still have a few shows I’m hoping to see before the year is up, but my busy schedule might prevent me from posting anything until 2014. I went to a few shows in the spring and summer that I never blogged about but deserve some mention here. There are also a few bands mentioned below that I didn’t get to see this year, but I’m hoping will show up in 2014. Some have new albums out, too. I’ll keep it short and will give you the basic information. It will be up to you, dear reader, to click on the links and look up these terrific bands, explore their music and purchase some CD’s for the gift-giving season. Most importantly, GET OUT THERE AND SEE A SHOW!
Local Seattle-Area Bands: (Mind you, this is an incomplete list of the enormously talented bands in Seattle)
Jackrabbit – One of our favorite little bands in Seattle. We kicked off the year seeing them at The Tractor in January. The threesome kicks ass on stage. Never a disappointment. They add new songs to the setlist quite frequently.
Massy Ferguson – A Seattle Rock-n-Roll/Country Rock Darling. We went to their CD Release Party for Victory and Ruins at The Triple Door. My Plus 1 and I had a fantastic time sitting in the front row for this performance which was also broadcast live for kids struggling with various illnesses in a local hospital. Frontman Ethan Anderson gave his all, as usual. It was the best performance by the band so far, in my opinion, and I’ve seen them play many shows over the years. We also saw them on a rainy summer evening in Duvall at an outdoor performance. They jinxed our perfect rain-free summer! A hearty group of fans braved the showers and were treated with another fine show by the boys. We picked up a cool t-shirt after the show. Massy Ferguson also frequent some of the wineries in Eastern Washington, so check ’em out in Wenatchee, Tri-Cities and Walla Walla sometime. Here’s a blog I wrote last year for No Depression.
The Swearengens – Their motto is “The Seattle alt-country band your mama warned you about.” We try to see this band as often as possible. I love their big sound. You never know what will happen at one of their shows: dancing, drinking, special guests and lots of friends joining in on the fun. Oh, and never have a whiskey drinkin’ contest with frontman Fredd Luongo. You will lose. Their latest album, Waiting on the Sunrise is a treat. Check out their link and listen or purchase some merch.
Davidson Hart Kingsbery – His self-titled new album is getting some positive, nation-wide press. We saw part of his show in January, and dug it.
The Rainieros – Another tight country band with a Western swing kicker. Their latest album, Last Call received critical acclaim and was one of the top Americana albums of 2012. We saw them open for Big Sandy in August.
The Ganges River Band – We saw them for the first time at The Sunset this summer. They opened for Shinyribs and blasted through a clean set of country. Country Dave Harmonson helped out on pedal steel and electric guitar. Always a treat.
Ole Tinder – Ole timey country. We saw them open for Massy Ferguson at Barboza and at The Tractor with Jackrabbit. Mike Giacolino also has a solo project while Nils Peterson plays in another band called Rose Windows. JB Kardong also sits in with other bands including Jackrabbit and Sera Cahoone.
The Dusty 45’s – I’ll try to finish up a blog I started of this energetic show. Billy Joe Huels is THE Frontman. No one can light a trumpet ablaze, stand on a bass and blow the way he can! We went to a benefit concert supporting the DESC and were thoroughly entertained.
Star Anna – Opened solo for The Dusty 45’s. We’ve seen her shows several times. Her voice will grab your heart and rip it out. She has a new album out right now called Go To Hell, so pick it up and prepare to be mesmerized by her haunting vocals.
The Gourds – If Tom Petty is my musical Jesus, then The Gourds are my Church. Always a religious experience. My soul runneth over at every show, including the latest in August at The Tractor. One of my Best Weekends Ever.
Shinyribs – Kevin Russell’s solo project. He has so much creative energy that one band (The Gourds) isn’t enough for him. If you’re lucky, he’ll open for The Gourds and you’ll get double the fun. Check out his bandcamp site for a little booty shakin’ music. We saw him again just two weeks after his stint at The Tractor. He came back and played at The Sunset!
The Wild Feathers – This big band opened for Willie Nelson at Marymoor and we fell in love with them. Besides their original tunes, they managed to cover Tom Petty’s “Listen To Her Heart” with my approval.
Big Sandy – Roots rock, rockabilly and Western swing. Big Sandy’s a ball of energy and the king of smooth. He plays in Southern Cal most of the year, but tours around the country and Europe, too. If he shows up with Los Straitjackets (see below), it’s a Must-See show. We saw him in August at The Tractor.
Los Straitjackets – Eddie Angel’s lucha libre mask-wearing band of psycho surf musicians and one of Marshall Chapman’s (see Marshall below) favorite bands. Angel was actually the guitarist in Marshall’s band back in the 80’s. They’re known world-wide for their onstage antics and surf guitar mastery. I had the pleasure of meeting them at a local show a couple of years ago. They’re currently touring the East Coast. Hoping to see them again in 2014.
Greg Townson – Solo artist, Hi-Riser (Meet the Hi-Risers Here!) and Gregorio El Grande of Los Straitjackets. He can sing a swoon-worthy love song (buy his latest album, On Your Side) or perform a face-melting guitar solo. Check him out in Rochester, NY or on the current Los Straitjackets tour. He also joins the bands overseas to Italy, Spain and other countries.
Marshall Chapman – A Nashville treasure and my musical hero. Rodney Crowell calls her “The Goddess of Tall”. The first time I saw her was in 2011 at The Station Inn , a Nashville mecca for singer/songwriters of country, Americana and bluegrass. All my preconceived notions of Nashville flew out the window that night. She was REAL. She was CANDID. She had bare feet. And she wore basketball shorts to the performance. I liked her before she ever sang a note. Here is my blog of that show (scroll down a bit to find the Nashville section). She has a new album and a couple of books that are Must-Reads for music lovers. Check her website for more info and purchase some merch!
My husband, who travels to the Nashville area often, had a chance to see her play again this year at The Bluebird Cafe, another very famous yet tiny Nashville hangout. Will Kimbrough (see below) accompanied her on guitar once again to promote her new album, Blaze of Glory, which is getting rave reviews. I was so jealous that my husband attended the show without me, but I knew he would return with her signed CD. What I missed most were the stories that accompanied the songs. My husband recounted a few stories to me when he returned. She also told the audience that this album is meant to be shared with the one you love. Play it in the bedroom with the curtains drawn and the lights low. By the fifth song, you should be ripping each other’s clothes off.
My sweet husband did bring home a signed copy of Marshall’s CD. Throughout the album, the instruments stay firmly put in the background, allowing Marshall’s vocals and lyrics to shine. Occasionally, Mr. Mike Utley, one of Jimmy Buffet’s cohorts and co-producer of this album, drops in for a visit with an organ accompaniment. The first two songs offer some good ol’ rock and roll, and one includes The Reverend Todd Snider on vocals. After that, she pulls in for a sexy slow dance. A new genre is born, says Marshall: “Torch-song Americana”. Hear some tunes here.
Will Kimbrough – Another Nashville hero whom I found through Jimmy Buffett. We’ve seen him perform several times in various locations solo, with Rodney Crowell, Emmylou Harris, Todd Snider and with Marshall Chapman in Nashville. He just released a solo album, Sideshow Love, and will perform in the Seattle-Bellingham area in early January 2014! More info soon!! A MUST-SEE EVENT!!!
Willie Sugarcapps – An Americana supergroup starring Will Kimbrough- also with new album out this year. They are getting outstanding press and are currently enjoying a Gulf Shores Shrimp Fest weekend in Alabama.
Todd Snider – Now, The Reverend Todd Snider. He received his license to officiate in support of gay marriage. Part folk/Americana, part country, and part rock-n-roll. He can make a political statement in a song before you know what hit you. His live shows are a stand-up comedy act with some music thrown in. He makes you think, laugh and generally just have fun. He said he isn’t trying to preach to you, either. He tells these stories because they rhyme. We also saw him at The Triple Door last year, and I wrote a review for Randomvile. We saw him at The Zoo this summer on a perfect Sunday evening. He brought along Hayes Carll, whom I coined Todd Jr. by the end of his set. He was also a storyteller, and had funny songs that accompanied the backstories. His voice was a little more country than Todd’s, more akin to Jack Ingraham. Carll also had some inappropriate songs that he couldn’t sing because of “the children” in attendance. On his website, he had a ton of videos. Shawn Mullins, , of the notorious talk-sing “Rockabye” song, was a very pleasant surprise. His guitar playing was superb, and his other songs rich and interesting. Sarah Jarosz opened Todd’s show. I really enjoyed her clear folk vocals accompanied by a fiddler and a cellist, who plucked his instrument like a bass. She did a Bob Dylan cover of “Ring Them Bells” and it was wonderful. She only played about a half-hour set, but kept the audience’s attention the entire time.
Tommy Womack – Another favorite Nashville/Kentucky solo artist, a Daddy with Will Kimbrough, and collaborator with many others including Todd Snider. He has an album out (several, actually), and plays regularly at The Station Inn with Will and Marshall. He also wrote a humorous and heartbreaking tell-all about his life in the band Government Cheese called Cheese Chronicles. A very entertaining read. Visit with him on YouTube every Monday Morning for a cup of coffee (see his website or FB for more info) and pick up your own coffee mug on his website. “Don’t let the bastards get you down!” I have yet to meet Tommy, but P got to meet him at The Station Inn last year. I’m hoping to make it back to Nashville in 2014.
Have I missed anyone here? I’m sure I have. It’s been a tough year to find time to get out there, so we’ve been very picky about our show dates. We try to see our regulars first and foremost. Once in a blue moon we see a new band or enjoy an opening set; it’s always a nice surprise to add one to our “favorite band” list,
I discovered The Hi-Risers quite by accident, but they’ve been a branch of a growing musical family tree for years. The tree sprouted for me when my love of Jimmy Buffett’s laid- back, Margaritaville empire led me to Will Kimbrough, who writes and plays occasionally with Jimmy and lives in Nashville. Ms. Marshall Chapman, a singer/songriter and Nashville legend, also wrote for Jimmy and plays regularly with Will. When my husband’s company moved their corporate headquarters to northern Alabama, we made a trip to Nashville last summer and got to meet and visit with Will and Marshall. Marshall also wrote a book about Nashville artists called They Came To Nashville and included a chapter about Eddie Angel, who used to be lead guitarist for her band. Following so far?
Eddie Angel is currently fronting Los Straitjackets, an instrumental surf band. Two weeks after I read Marshall’s book, Los Straitjackets played at Slow Food Roots Music Festival just north of Seattle. Two members of Los Straitjackets, Gregorio El Grande (guitar/vocals) and Senior Jason Smay (drums) also play in The Hi-Risers, based in Rochester, NY. Gregorio El Grande, a.k.a. Greg Townson, founded The Hi-Risers in 1997 with his long-time music collaborator Todd Bradley (bass/vocals). When Greg and Jason aren’t playing with Los Straitjackets, you can catch the trio tearing the place apart in a Rochester venue, various cities along the East Coast, or maybe even Europe.
After meeting Greg and the rest of Los Straitjackets briefly at the festival last summer, he was kind enough to send me a copy (via Todd Bradley–thanks, Todd!) of The Hi-Risers’ latest album, Once We Get Started (Spinout Records, 2008). They have several albums out, including some on a Spanish label, Rock & Roll, Inc. Greg was involved in writing most of the songs and collaborated with several talented people, including Todd, to complete the album. Some of the songs were previously recorded on Rock & Roll Inc., then re-recorded for this album. The history of the making of each song, tour dates and music store can be found on The Hi-Risers website.
I asked Greg how he managed to get so big in Europe, especially Spain. “We first went to Spain in 2004. A promoter there heard our second record, In The Spotlight, and hired us to play an amazing festival in Gijon. After that the band started to tour there on a regular basis and we built up a nice following. We’ve also played Italy, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, France, Finland, Belgium, Sweden and more. Rock & Roll Inc. is run by a good friend of mine and is based in Madrid. He’s a big fan and one of the nicest people I’ve met in the business.”
Once We Get Started is a delightful 14-track mix of multiple decades and genres of rock ‘n’ roll, surf, swing and rockabilly, but with original songs and their own trademark sound. Greg’s superb guitar skills rock each song with complex rhythms and runs, while Todd keeps that rock ‘n’ roll beat on bass. Greg and Todd also have sweet retro harmonies on many tracks. Jason Smay absolutely kills on drums and adds depth and speed to the poppy tunes. Their songs have very addictive lyrics; the title track stuck in my head the rest of the weekend. Don’t be fooled by the seemingly simple composition of these songs, though. As Greg says, “We work very hard to make it sound like we don’t work very hard, if you know what I mean.”
They tear the place apart on the first song, “Foundation Rock” and end the disk with a screaming guitar solo on the frenetic “Two Week Notice”.
“She’ll Be My Ruin” makes me want to learn to swing dance:
“ATM Inside” has a modern rock tone and a darker quality as the boys lament their loss of funds from a girl with a heart like an ATM.
“Katy Did”, a pun on the katydid grasshopper, even includes a lyric about finding her in a meadow!
“One Note Joe” is frustratingly funny, as he literally only plays one note throughout the guitar solo:
Other tracks include heartbreakers and sweet love songs, as well as one that sounds like Jimmy Buffett himself should record called “Slack Jawed & Trout Mouthed”.
The Hi-Risers have a new album coming out in July called Hang Around With You. I look forward to reviewing that and spreading the word about this band made for sock hops and summer lovin’.
Here’s another video, just for fun:
Gregorio El Grande steals the show with his solo in “You Send Me”
Eddie Angel of Los Straitjackets coaxed the devil out of his guitar Saturday afternoon at a quiet little food and music festival in Stanwood, Washington.
I first heard of Los Straitjackets while reading They Came to Nashville by Marshall Chapman. I saw Ms. Chapman perform in Nashville in June of this year and purchased her book soon afterward. Eddie Angel was featured in her book because he used to play in her band back in the 80’s. He then formed Los Straitjackets in 1994. Chapman named Los Straitjackets as her favorite Nashville band, and Eddie Angel as her favorite guitar player. When I heard they were coming to the Seattle area, I had to go.
My husband was golfing the weekend they were supposed to play The Tractor; by the time I started scrambling to find someone else to go with, they sold out. Their website mentioned they would be playing at Slow Food Roots Music Festival in Stanwood. I looked them up, and decided to ask my teenage son if he could go with me, since the festival was family friendly. He surprisingly agreed, so I purchased the $20 tickets and told him we were in, and not to make any other plans.
My goal was to not only introduce my son to some unique music, but also feed him some decent fair food. I’m always surprised at the paradox of our local fairs to showcase beautiful animals, vegetables and fruit, and then serve heavily processed, greasy fast food. But this festival tried something different. The vendors were local. The food was grown locally, and the menu included burgers, beef brisket (cooked 15 hours on-site), veggie wraps, fruit smoothies, salads, roasted corn, desserts from a local bakery, and locally roasted coffee.
After a slow drive through heavy Everett traffic, we arrived about 2:00. It was a perfectly warm, sunny day, with a little breeze to keep us from overheating.
We were hungry and purchased delicious hamburgers with fixin’s that included rhubarb ketchup, herb-infused mustard, beautiful butter lettuce, ripe tomatoes and fresh buns that were hand-cut. They were so flavorful.
We grabbed some water bottles and found a seat in the small set of wooden risers just a few yards from the stage. In front of us, there were people scattered about in beach chairs and blankets. A few hundred people gathered in the vicinity of the stage and beer garden.
The Moondoggies were finishing up a tight set, and sounded fantastic on this warm summer day. I kicked myself for not driving up a bit earlier. I do plan to see them again soon.
We wandered around after their set to find some dessert – a giant, tasty snickerdoodle. We walked back to the stage and settled in again on the risers. The crowd picked up a bit when it was announced that Los Straitjackets would be coming on stage in a few minutes.
My son refused to see a video or any pictures of the band. I thought he was just being a lazy teenager, but he told me he really wanted to be surprised. I only told him they were an instrumental surf band, and they wore Mexican wrestling masks. That was good enough for him!
I watched my son’s metallic grin spread all the way across his face as Los Straitjackets took the stage, decked out in their campy, colorful spandex wrestling masks, black bowling shirts with their names embroidered on the pocket, and black pants.
They started out the set with a slower song that showcased their unique surf guitar sound. Their matching, sparkly Galaxie 4 guitars were custom-made by DiPinto Guitars, based in Philadelphia, PA. They put those guitars to work.
By the third song, “Casbah,” more people showed up and started paying attention. Senior Angel thanked the audience in pidgin Spanish, sans accent, and introduced the song: “Gracias, damas y caballeros, otro cancion es…Casbah! The three guitarists lined up and jutted their heads like pigeons to the beat of the song.
The fifth song was a cover, “You Send Me” and I felt like I was a 50’s sock hop doing a slow dance with Marty McFly.
“Despues, a new…nuevo cancion called Space Mosquito, o Mosquito del Espacio!” This was a new song from their upcoming album.
Senior Angel’s skillful guitar playing was magical. I’ve really never seen anything like it. Maybe even the best I’ve ever seen, for pure entertainment value. He was all over the frets, throwing his pick hand behind his head making it look and sound like he had some kind of telepathic control over that guitar. He was plucking, picking, pounding on the neck, making that thing scream out sounds I’ve never heard. Maybe he was possessed. Dios Mio! El Diablo!
A second guitar, played by and introduced as El Stupendo, El Fantastico Senior Gregorio El Grande (Greg Townson). He rattled out the solos, playfully hit harmonics, slowed it down, and complemented Angel’s guitar to perfection. He stopped through part of a solo, threw his arms up toward the crowd in a show of triumph, and they whooped and clapped for more. When not touring with Los Straitjackets, El Grande plays in another band with the drummer, Jason Smay called The Hi-Risers, based in Rochester, NY.
The drummer, Senior Jason Smay, had his hands full keeping up with the fast surfer pace, banging away in the hot August sun. He had a remarkable solo of his own during a cover of “Sing Sing Sing,” and received a well-deserved standing ovation.
The bass player, Senior Pedro (Pete) Curry, whose mask was epic with winged sides like some loco Jurassic lizard, had very difficult runs and some fun coordinating dance moves with the two guitarists during the long set. They would stand together and play or cross their legs at the same time, pose, throw their arms up in unison, and mug for my camera.
Many of the songs were fun covers, but they are also getting ready to drop a new album and played two more original songs, including “Bobsleddin’,” and one called “Positively 6th Street.” I only wish we were watching their act at a beach party in Southern California, where we were free to dance and get a little…Psycho! (Cue the Psycho Beach Party Video!)
Some of the other covers included “Tequila,” in which Angel asked the beer garden: “Quiere Tequila?” and blasted into that famous song. They also played “The Munsters” theme song, the Stones’ “Time is on My Side,” and–uh, Celine Dion’s “My Heart Will Go On,” from The Titanic. It sounded so cool, though!
Senior Angel kept forgetting where he was playing and exclaimed to the crowd, “Viva, uh, viva…Stanley? No? Stanwood. Viva Stanwood! Y viva…[he read off the festival name from Gregorio’s wrist band] Slow Food Roots Music Festival!” The crowd laughed and cheered heartily, and he continued, “Viva Beer Garden!” More cheers. “Viva Batman!” and plowed right into the “Batman” theme song to a happy crowd.
We moved to the side and sat on hay bales next to the right side of stage during encore while they played a Ritchie Valens instrumental, and it was a perfect, beautiful rendition.
After the quick encore, I told Jacob to make a dash for the side of the stage, as I hoped we could catch them before they left. It was so open, it was easy to see them. There was a lone security guard who cheerfully helped bring the guys over to meet us.
Eddie came over first, and I had my copy of Marshall Chapman’s book in my hand. He recognized it immediately and was taken aback. He said he’d never seen anyone with the book at a show before. I quickly told him how we were just in Nashville in June and saw Marshall’s show, and realized they would be coming to town! He happily signed my book on the picture in chapter about him. The drummer Jason signed it too, and thanked us for being there.
The security guard brought over Gregorio who also signed the book, gave me his card, and was glad to hear I was doing a review of the show. I told him I heard they tore it up at The Tractor last night, but I couldn’t get tickets. He remembered they sold out. He said they had a great time. I told him The Tractor was our favorite place to see live shows, and he said he’d come back as long as The Tractor is still there. He said hello to my son, whom I quickly introduced. He shook Jacob’s hand (Jacob later admitted that was pretty cool). Gregorio then called the bass player over, who also signed and after hearing my explanation of how I acquired the book, said to me, “Marshall–she’s a smart one!” Yes, she is.
I was shaking when I left. I was so excited to get not only Eddie Angel’s autograph, but the whole band’s! Jacob said, “Calm down, Mom!” and smiled as he said it.
We were almost hungry again and purchased peach smoothies, a beef brisket sandwich, then went back for roasted corn cob and pecan pie bars for dessert. The entertainment, the food, the perfect weather…Yeah, it was a good day at the festival.
Viva Los Straitjackets!
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